Email’s sick bed

In 1997 John Naughton explained to me that he needed a kind of online journal to keep track of all his thoughts around stuff he found online. He created one himself in HTML. He was describing what we would come to know as a blog. It took me ten years to then become a blogger. So, last week when John said he thought email was unusable now, even though I didn’t have the same sense of it myself, I thought I wouldn’t wait ten years to come to the same conclusion. I was away for 4 days recently, when I came back I had 159 emails (actually quite a low count), of which only 10 were directly relevant, another 20 or so I had been copied in to for interest, the rest were largely irrelevant. That’s not an efficient communication method, and this is now such a common experience that it hardly seems worthy of comment.

John isn’t the only one who feels this way, for instance Brian Kelly has posted that email is (and should) die. Students are using social network sites, Facebook and the like, and within communities subscribing to RSS feeds is now a preferred route for many over mailing lists.

In an earlier post I used a normal distribution curve for the adoption of technology. The front of this is probably uncontroversial, but the tail end might be. As technology becomes part of tradition surely the user base remains high, not decreases. What the email dissatisfaction may demonstrate is that they do decline precisely because they become part of the mainstream. They then become used by the institution, and lose their original appeal. Email used to be excellent because it was informal, as it became part of the formal mechanics, people have started finding other channels to meet their needs. So, I love blogs, and if I really don’t want them to be killed off, I should stop all this promotion of their organisational relevance.

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